Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fox: "PITTSBURGH DURING THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR 1860-1865"

[Pittsburgh During the American Civil War 1860-1865 by Arthur B. Fox (Firefly Publications/Mechling, 2009 2nd ed.).  Softcover, maps, tables, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography. 237 Pages. ISBN: 978-0-9793772-9-7  $29.95]

When it comes to Pennsylvania cities and towns, Gettysburg and Philadelphia (as one might expect) get most consideration from the publishing world, but author Arthur B. Fox has done much to bring attention to the western part of the state, specifically Allegheny County and the emerging industrial city of Pittsburgh. His book Pittsburgh During the American Civil War 1860-1865 (Mechling Bookbindery, 2002) was reissued in paperback last year. An excellent all around survey of the city's participation in the war, it is well worthy of the privilege.

Fox's book is not presented as a cohesive narrative history, but rather an informative and winding series of explanatory sections, replete with directions, maps, drawings, lists, and tables, more akin to a reference work. In line with the city's importance to war industries, several chapters are devoted to civilian businesses, war contractors, and military arms and ammunition production, most famously the Allegheny Arsenal and Fort Pitt Foundry. Local firms of all types are summarized and located for the reader. Events and circumstances surrounding the tragic series of explosions at occurred at the arsenal on September 17, 1862, killing close to 80 workers (mostly young women), are discussed. The foundry produced large numbers of heavy cannon for the war effort, and Fox goes into some depth describing the Rodman method of casting increasingly massive guns, the culmination of which was a colossal 20-inch smoothbore firing a projectile weighing over 1,000 lbs. Another interesting tidbit was the author's discovery, through local newspapers, of managers at the arsenal openly threatening workers with termination if they did not vote for Lincoln in the 1864 election, and following through with their threat. If true, one wonders how widespread was the practice.

Companies raised in Pittsburgh and the surrounding county are listed, and much information about the nine military camps that dotted the landscape 1861-1863 is provided. Pittsburgh hospitals are also discussed, as well as Confederate POWs. A pair of appendices additionally deal with city and county GAR posts and orphanages. As one can readily see, Fox's coverage of local institutions is quite comprehensive.

With the threat of Confederate raids into the state in 1863, a series of earthwork forts were constructed around Pittsburgh, ringing the city by the time of the Gettysburg Campaign. Period photographs do not exist, but a series of post-war images (several are reproduced in the book) documented the sites before they were destroyed by urban expansion. Aided by William McCarthy's 1992 history and archaeological survey of the dozens of forts, redoubts, and batteries, Fox provides a complete summary of these sites and their original location. A pair of period maps, including a large pullout, also reference these sites, as well as the arsenal and camps.

Well researched, and generously filled with images, maps, and data tables, Pittsburgh During the American Civil War 1860-1865 is a wonderful example of local history done right, as well as an invaluable guide for outside readers and historians seeking to learn more about the city's manpower and industrial contributions to the Union war machine. Highly recommended.

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